Be warned! The planet’s future is in your hands

drought, climate change, turkana drought

A resident of Turkana carries farming tools on her way to her sorghum crops in an arid area in Nanyee, near Lodwar. Turkana is one of the counties worst hit by drought. 

Photo credit: AFP

What you need to know:

  •  There is a lot we can do as individuals. For example, we should avoid having any form of food waste, reduce overconsumption, and not buying too many clothes, shoes or household stuff that you don't use.
  • We should learn to conserve resources such as water as well as encourage one another to carpool especially in big cities. Carpooling saves money and reduces emissions. 

In the last eight years, over 700 scientists from around the world have been working on an evidence-based sixth cycle of a major scientific report that informs policies and offers solutions to prevent further negative impacts to the changing climate. They published their findings in the latest United Nation’s Intergovernmental Panel on Climate Change (IPCC) report.

In the report released last week, the scientists  summarise previous findings that already show the negative impact human activities have on climate. Like a teacher who warns you from indulging in bad behaviour, they offer alternative ‘good behaviour’ that we can start working on to limit warming levels.

Health and Science reporter Hellen Shikandaspoke to one of the Kenyan scientists who took part in the writing of the report, Patricia Nying’uro.

What is the IPCC synthesis report and why is it relevant for Kenya?

It is a synthesis of the content in all the reports in the sixth assessment cycle. They include Working Group I, II and III reports. Working Group I details the physical science of climate change, Working group II has impacts, adaptation and vulnerability and the third one has mitigation of climate change.

It is very relevant for Kenya because it highlights current and projected impacts of climate change. It also outlines possible response measures. This, if incorporated in policy and long term planning, will serve to safeguard our immediate future.

The report shows that some of the human activities will make the planet warmer for future generations. What should an individual Kenyan do to change this trend?

There is a lot we can do as individuals. For example, we should avoid having any form of food waste, reduce overconsump, and not buying too many clothes, shoes or household stuff that you don't use. We should learn to conserve resources such as water as well as encourage one another to carpool especially in big cities. Carpooling saves money and reduces emissions.

 Climate change knows no borders. The report highlights that regional changes are likely to become more widespread and pronounced. Africa, at the moment, produces small amounts of greenhouse gas emissions compared to the global north. How do we go even lower and what should we embrace as a region?

International cooperation is key to achieving the global goal of keeping warming under 1.5 degrees Celsius. Kenya is already working on ‘going net zero’ (cutting greenhouse gas emissions to as close to zero as soon as possible) because we are relying more on renewable energy. In the agricultural sector, we are employing climate smart agriculture, which is an adaptation strategy with mitigation co-benefits if optimally practised. I'm sure you have seen efforts to go electrical in transport systems. It contributes to lowering emissions. The National Climate Change Action Plan further outlines sectors in which Kenya is working to reduce emissions.

What changes is Kenya likely to observe should warming levels go up?

The report clearly shows that in most African countries there is expected to be an increase in heat extremes impacting human health. We will likely experience reduced food production, water scarcity and adverse impacts on livestock.

Elucidate on the heat to humidity risks pin pointed in the report. Are there any other health risks that Kenyans may be exposed to if governments don't meet their climate goals?

As heat increases and humidity too co-occurs with high heat, the impacts on humans become more adverse. This combination has been shown to compromise the human body's ability to sweat so as to cool itself. As a result, people suffer heat stress and become ill and in extreme cases, it may lead to death particularly for the elderly and the young in our society.

The IPCC highlighted that there are barriers affecting the implementation of carbon capture methods. Do you think carbon capture methods are feasible in the African continent, or Kenya? If so, how should they be implemented?
 Carbon Capture and Storage (CCS) is done in two ways; one that is done directly from the atmosphere, and another from biomass. There are various challenges associated with the one done from the atmosphere, which affects its implementation in Kenya and Africa. These include the technology behind these methods, the cost of the technology, institutional capacity of deployment, ecological, environmental and socio-cultural concerns.

My personal opinion as influenced by the IPCC reports is that biological carbon dioxide removal methods like reforestation, improved forest management, soil carbon sequestration, peatland restoration and coastal blue carbon management are relatively easier to deploy and have many advantages, including enhancing biodiversity and ecosystem functions. They also create employment and improve local livelihoods.

What solutions have the scientists highlighted in the report that Kenya can take advantage of even without waiting for funding from external partners?

Figure SPM 7 of this report has my favourite options that we can implement. We should continue to leverage on renewable energy sources as we are on the right track. Some of the options are reducing large scale food waste, reducing conversion of natural ecosystems for commercial uses, improving sustainable forest management, improving crop land management, enhancing early warning and livelihood diversification.

What are some of the climate impacts that are beyond mitigation in the country that we need to start adapting to?

The glacial melt on Mt Kenya is almost irreversible and many systems are now approaching soft limits of adaptation.

The next report comes out in 2030, do you think it will be akin to doomsday news or is there hope for positive change?

The current cycle has provided enough information to spur action. What the next report will assess largely depends on how society responds to the output of this sixth assessment report. We have time to change things around but this requires concerted collective effort.